A Ukrainian woman and her three kids who were detained at the San Ysidro Port of Entry after seeking asylum at the border were released Friday and allowed to enter the United States.
Sofiia and her children, ages 6, 12 and 14, left Ukraine a few days after Russia's invasion began. They went first to Moldova, then Romania, then flew to Mexico City, Mexico and eventually arrived at the border crossing in Tijuana, according to family attorney Blaine Bookey. Sofiia says she has loved ones in Los Angeles and the Bay area.
The family entered the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in San Diego for processing on Thursday, the agency confirmed, after authorities blocked their path the day before. They were eventually moved to a CBP shelter and held overnight.
NBC 7 heard from Sofiia after she and her kids were released and allowed into the country.
"The lights are always on, and it's very cold. It's only one blanket to cover you up ... it's kind of impossible to sleep. Now, for my life and for my kids, I hope -- not 'I hope,' we are safe already and there are lots of people helping me. I thank them a lot, but I am really worrying about my family and friends in Ukraine," she said.
CBP's refusal of the family at the border Wednesday triggered sharp criticism from Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
“They requested refuge in one of the ports of entry on our southern border, but were turned away because of Title 42,” Schumer said on a conference call with reporters, according to the Associated Press. “This is not who we are as a country. Continuing this Trump-era policy has defied common sense and common decency."
Title 42 refers to an order enacted under the Trump administration in March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and allows for the immediate deportation of migrants from the U.S. The Biden White House has maintained the policy, though Democrats have been calling for its end to remove restrictions on asylum-seekers.
A Telemundo 20 crew in Tijuana captured Sofiia and her family being let through Thursday to the processing facility. She immediately hugged Bookey, who said it was sheer luck she was at the border when the family was being turned away.
Sofiia and her children hadn't emerged from the facility on U.S. soil as of 11 p.m. PT Thursday, but Bookey said CBP can hold them for up to 72 hours.
Telemundo 20 reporter Marinee Zavala interviewed Sofiia before she left Mexico.
When asked why she was seeking asylum in the U.S., Sofiia told Zavala, "Because I probably don’t have any other place to go."
"I have family and friends in the U.S.A. They’re ready to support me and actually, they asked me to leave Ukraine in this situation. In any other case, I wouldn’t leave, I’m sure, because I have more family and friends over there," she said.
Bookey, who works with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, described what the last few weeks have been like for Sofiia and her family.
"She said that we were like angels in her path. It’s been a very, very disorienting time for them, just for all the reasons: fleeing war, leaving behind family, not knowing if you’ll have the chance to go back to this place that you love and call home," Bookey explained.
The Department of Homeland Security said it will continue to admit people who are considered vulnerable on a case-by-case basis.